Emer O’Toole is a scholar and writer who contributes to various online publications, including the Guardian and the feminist blog Vagenda.
In her latest book Girls will be Girls, Emer explores what it really means to ‘act like a girl’, and lovingly dissects subjects such as booty-shaking, sexual disasters, family dinners and full-body waxing, in search of wisdom. So we jumped at the chance to ask her a few questions and find out more.
Who is your favourite author?
Don’t make me choose! Don’t make me choose! Authors I love include (but are by no means limited to): Doris Lessing, Khushwant Singh, Rebecca Solnit, Andrea Levy, Kurt Vonnegut, Julie Doucet and Salman Rushdie. I am currently developing an Octavia Butler habit.
What book do you most often recommend to friends?
Different strokes for different folks; different pages for different sages.
For Geeky Young Adults – Louise O’Neill’s dystopic sci fi novel, Only Ever Yours, about a future society in which women are genetically designed and conditioned since birth to value themselves only in terms of their looks and their value to men. It’s sinister and smart and brilliant.
For Sci Fi Geeks – Joanna Russ’s The Female Man. It’s the story of 4 women from different temporal and spatial dimensions – Jeannine, Jael, Joanne and Janet – who meet and travel to each of their home times. Jeannine and Joanne live in a version of the 1970s not unlike Russ’s own; Janet lives in a future world where all of the men have died of a plague and women live and love in something resembling a utopia; finally, Jael lives in a future in which men and women have split from each other and are at war. It was written in the ’70s, but it still feels so fresh, so angry, so necessary.
For History Geeks – Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan, which weaves a heartbreaking fiction around the partition of India and Pakistan. I have never read a better last page.
For Comic Book Geeks – Julie Doucet’s Ciboire de Criss – a dirty, punky, outrageously irreverent grab bag of artist Doucet’s fucked up dreams and fantasies. I love it so.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I’m a great believer in a spot of pottering before getting down to it. Oh, and I write better when I’m sitting on the floor. I have no idea why.
If you weren’t a writer what job would you liked to have gone into?
I think I’d like to teach theatre and film at a university in Montréal. Oh wait! I already teach theatre and film at a university in Montréal.
Disgusting smugness aside, there are challenges to balancing a career as a writer and a career as an academic. I love both sides of my professional life, but, obviously, I can’t give either my all. It’s a tough gig sometimes, and if you’re considering a similar path, I’d advise thinking long and hard about what’s more important to you. If, like me, you know that both are equally important – then get ready for some long hours, some tight deadlines, and the knowledge that working in both fields means sacrificing your full ability in either.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
Writing. I love writing. I love twisting a sentence until it curls just the way I want it to. I love the rhythm of syllables, the emotion of words. Anthony Burgess, author of Clockwork Orange, once said, “For some of us, the wresting of beauty out of language is the only thing in the world that matters.” Personally, I think other things matter – like my Mum and cheese and global f***ing warming – but I still know what he means.
What one item could you not live without?
My smooth groove camel toe preventer – a lightweight plastic device that you slip into your leggings or underwear to hide all evidence of your disgusting labia from the world and to maintain the important illusion that underneath your clothes you look like Barbie.
Tell us something that will shock your readers.
I’m such a chronic oversharer that I’m sure anyone who’s read Girls Will Be Girls would unperturbed by anything personal I could offer here. So, instead, I’ll give a fascinating and shocking fact about our planet:
Did you know that if you lined up all the plastic bags on the planet end to end along the equator, they would all blow away?
What makes you happy?
Cuddles and jokes and waking up next to my love.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Ideas need calories. (They do. They need calories.)
The members of my dream book club would be . . .
Virginia Woolf, Cillian Murphy, Marlene Dietrich, Gugu Mbatha Raw, Pierre Bourdieu, Riz Ahmed, and Lea Delaria. On the downside, I have very little idea what any of these people would like to read. On the upside, I would fancy every single person in the room.